Supporters push plan to thin deer population in park

WINDER - A plan to reduce the number of deer in Fort Yargo State Park drew more than 75 supporters to a meeting Thursday.

Even those who came to the Will-A-Way camp site with oppositions to the plan were in favor of killing some of the 81 to 89 deer that experts say are wandering each acre.

"I think the deer need to be thinned out," Cedar Crest resident Nancy Aloia said. "I know we need to get them out of here. I only wish it was done by bow, not by firearms."

Aloia and neighbor Cindy Ellington's yards back up to the park, and both spoke at the public meeting questioning whether having hunters in Fort Yargo would be safe for their neighbors and their property.

Park Manager Eric Bentley assured the pair that the park would have a safe zone - between 100 and 200 yards from their property lines where hunters would not be permitted - and that hunters would be encouraged to use tree stands, so their shots would fire down and not out through the park.

The main goal of the hunt, he said, is to reduce the population of the deer that call Fort Yargo home. Optimistically, that number would be between 21 and 25 deer an acre.

Hunters will be encouraged to kill does, not deer with antlers on the hunt. Only 65 people would be permitted to join each of the two-day hunts, scheduled for Nov. 29 and 30 and Jan. 3 and 4.

The plan still has to pass the Department of Natural Resources' board in a May 24 meeting. Bentley said it was highly likely that the hunts would be approved.

Hunts are already held at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge. With 5,804 acres, that park is much larger than Fort Yargo's 1,814 acres.

Bentley said the size of the park will dictate how the hunt is conducted.

"You'll see us being very aggressive with law enforcement," he said. "If you can't abide by the rules, we'll send you home."

State Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, attended the meeting to see what people had to say about the county's deer population. As growth has exploded in Barrow, he said, Fort Yargo has become an oasis for them to call home.

Thinning the herd, he said, would protect the deer from malnutrition - they have already eaten almost everything edible in the park - and keep them from getting into as many accidents with the cars that travel Barrow's streets.

"If we can get the population under control, it will cut down on the number of deer-car accidents and calls from angry people who say they're eating their rose bushes," he said. "They roam pretty good. We've always had trouble."

Hoschton resident Harry Hauck said it used to be rare to see deer in the county during daylight hours. Now, he'll see several in a group wandering around. They even ate the green leaves of 64 flowers he planted in Fort Yargo that were supposed to be deer-resistant.

"I hate to see us go to a hunt, but I really think there's no alternative," he said. "I don't think there's any other way other than a hunt to reduce the herd to a manageable level. I think it's important to substantially reduce the population."

Gary Majestic, who lives in Auburn, said he came to the meeting to learn more about the hunt for himself and his 11-year-old son, Cameron. Cameron has been hunting for three years, and said he hoped he'd be able to get a bigger deer in Fort Yargo - if he is chosen through a lottery selection process - than he has been able to bag in the past.

Majestic said part of the appeal of the Fort Yargo hunt is that he'll be helping the community. In addition to the benefit for the park, hunters will be able to donate their take to an organization called Hunters for the Hungry.

People will be able to apply for the hunt in the summer, at the same time they apply for a hunting license. Bentley said because the goal is to get rid of as many deer as possible, there will not be a limit on how many each hunter can kill.

"We have got to get rid of some deer, and we have got to get rid of some deer quickly," he said.